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Vintage Aircraft Owners Win in FAA Reauthorization

 

Commonwealth Skyranger
A 1946 Commonwealth Skyranger, originally produced as the Rearwin Skyranger. Photo credit: RuthAS

February 16, 2012 – Some vintage aircraft owners got a big win in the FAA Authorization Bill signed Tuesday by President Obama, as the measure included an EAA-supported provision that authorizes the FAA to release certain type certificate and design data for aircraft no longer supported by a manufacturer.

The specific element of the bill (Section 302) provides that the FAA can release "abandoned" data that is essential to safely maintain and operate vintage aircraft. That includes data for aircraft such as those built by long-defunct companies whose type certificates were not acquired or maintained. Three years is the initial threshold for inactivity. It also gives the FAA the authority to declare that data as abandoned, or releasable to the public if aviation safety will be enhanced by the information for aircraft, engines, propellers, and other aircraft appliances.

"This is great progress for those who own and restore vintage aircraft and preserve our aviation legacy," said H.G. Frautschy, executive director of the Vintage Aircraft Association, a special interest group within EAA. "EAA and VAA have been working for many years to eliminate this dilemma for those who want to own, fly, and display these magnificent aircraft. We have previously sought and implemented policy and regulatory solutions to this dilemma. Each effort has failed under legal pressure on the FAA not to release solutions that could be considered proprietary or intellectual property. It was clear that a legislative solution would be required."

An additional amendment to the Reauthorization Bill (Section 816) requires the FAA to maintain engineering data relating to aircraft that were certificated between 1927 and 1939, and precludes the destruction of any such airworthiness and historically significant documentation. The amendment also eliminates the ability of type certificate holders from that period to force the FAA to withhold such data under the claims of "trade secrets." The amendment was proposed by longtime EAA member Greg Herrick, an owner and restorer of numerous vintage aircraft, and included in the legislation by Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO).

"There are two initial and complementary victories contained in the nearly decade-long effort: the preservation and release of historically significant documentation necessary to restore and maintain truly antique pre-war aircraft contained in the Herrick Amendment, and the EAA initiative giving the FAA authority to release the design and airworthiness data for both pre- and post-World War II general aviation aircraft that are no longer supported by a manufacturer," said Doug Macnair, EAA vice president of government relations.

"These efforts do not give completely unfettered access to design data, but they do go a long way toward helping owners of antique and vintage aircraft maintain these beautiful flying pieces of history. The EAA effort also seeks to protect not only owners of aircraft that are no longer supported by a manufacturer but those that may not be supported in the future, making this a long-term protection for all general aviation owners. We are very grateful to the FAA for their collaboration in this effort and their willingness to introduce the original language into the early drafts of the Reauthorization Bill on behalf of EAA and all who own and fly vintage aircraft."

As with all new laws, time will show how effective these measures prove to be in obtaining certification and design data for older aircraft. EAA will be monitoring how this process unfolds and is prepared to pursue additional remedies should they become necessary. For now, however, owners of vintage aircraft have an opportunity to seek data by filing a Freedom of Information Act request to the FAA for the information necessary to restore and maintain their aircraft, and those owners have a fighting chance of actually obtaining it.

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